Lim Hyung Joo “Finally” (Universal Music Japan)
When thinking of K-pop, acts that come to mind are girl groups like Girl’s Generation or 2NE1, who have ranked highly in the Billboard chart in recent years, or Psy and his signature “Gangnam Style” dancing that exploded internationally in 2012. However, South Korean opera singer Lim Hyung Joo doesn’t rely on costumes or dancing; instead of taking “pop” to the extreme, the United Nations Peace Medal-winning singer blends the catchy components of pop with traditional opera singing (a combination known as “popera”) on his new album “Finally.”
Covers of famous classical compositions such as Antonio Vivaldi’s motet “Nulla in mundo pax sincera” and George Frideric Handel’s aria “Ombra mai fu” are sang in an authentic operatic voice, along with the usual symphonic layers in the background. Despite being accompanied by the Prague City Sinfonietta, the big-budget backing does not overshadow Lim’s flair for pop.
Instead, it’s the covers and original tracks that make his pop-oriented style stand out. Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” which was originally sung in a deep tenor tone, is here sung in a softer feminine voice in higher pitch; and instead of imitating the original’s backing band, the only background here is an acoustic guitar’s arpeggio-led melody line. This simplicity works to show off Lim’s skillfulness. His style of singing — without tension in his vocalization — is not necessarily what one expects from a tenor vocalist, but it’s this mellow texture that blends smoothly with the bouncy rhythm of swing jazz number “L-O-V-E” by Nat King Cole, and, likewise, with the melancholic ballad of “Too Far Away” by Japanese singer songwriter Keiko Mizukoshi.
Lim has been releasing multiple conceptual albums over the years, and “Finally,” with its notable inclusion of original material, is being presented as a follow up to 2005’s “The Lotus.” The two new songs “Lonely My Love” and “I Can’t Do It” aren’t necessarily the highlights, but musically, they lie intriguingly in the middle of the aforementioned classical style and his pop covers, showing off Lim’s unique musicality and direction. (Daisuke Kikuchi)